It’s creamy, delicious, and downright dreamy -- it’s ice cream. But while 90% of households across the United States regularly indulge in this frozen dessert treat, few know exactly how ice cream takes its cold, delicious form. Want to know how ice cream is made? Read on to find out.

The Ingredients
First and foremost, let’s talk about what ice cream is made of. In its most basic form, ice cream is a frozen blend of a sweetened cream mixture and air, along with the addition of added flavorings. In order to be considered ice cream, the mixture must contain at least 10% milk fat and at least 20% total milk solids.

In order for an ice cream to be labeled “reduced fat,” it has to contain 25% less fat than the referenced ice cream. For it to be considered “light,” it must contain 50% less fat. And for low fat ice cream, there must be fewer than 3 grams of fat per serving. Nonfat ice cream, of course, should contain as little fat as possible, with no more than 0.5 grams per serving.

Some ice cream mixtures contain egg yolks; if the content of the ice cream contains at least 1.4% egg yolks, it can be called custard or “French.”

The Process

Now that you know what’s in ice cream, it’s time for the real question: how do air, sugar, and cream become the delicious treat we eat by the spoonful so often? The answer lies in a simple yet fascinating process.

The first step of the ice cream-making process is called the “blend.” During this part of the process, the ingredients are blended for eight minutes.

Following that step, the ice cream is then pasteurized and homogenized. In order to pasteurize and homogenize the ice cream, a container of ice cream is submerged in 182-degree Fahrenheit water, effectively killing harmful bacteria. The mix is then forced under high pressure (around 2,000 pounds per square inch), which allows the fat particles from the cream to divide and emulsify. This step makes the ice cream smoother and creamier.

Next, the ice cream blend is aged at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of four hours. Before or after this step, flavors or colors can be added.

Finally, the ice cream is frozen. This part of the process involves a rotating barrel that incorporates air into the ice cream mix. When air is added, it’s called overrun and it contributes to the lightness or density of the ice cream. Up to 50% of the volume of the ice cream can be air that was incorporated during the freezing process.

Once the ice cream is made, it is packaged and cooled as quickly as possible, down to a holding temperature of less than -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

Talk about a sweet process!